Are stray dogs worse than bears?

Angoon sees boom in canines; some may be getting shot, dumped

Posted: Monday, July 24, 2006

Former Angoon resident Deb Cox said her year-old shepherd-husky mix, Rocky, is a wonderful dog, and there's more like him where he comes from.

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"I've never seen such a wonderful hunter," she said of the pup she said she "rescued" from the Admiralty Island community where she taught for a year.

In the community about 55 miles southwest and almost five hours from Juneau via Alaska Marine Highway ferry, on an island known for a brown bear population that may be triple the number of full-time residents, Cox said she was more concerned with the dog packs than bears.

Melissa Cullum, who teaches seventh- through 12th-grade English in Angoon, said she adopted a second dog for the family. Cash is about 3 months old. But she said there are about three or four dozen puppies in the community of about 500 people, and she can't solve the problem alone.

"We have packs of dogs," she said. "I know they took down a couple of deer this winter."

Cullum worries what becomes of them.

"The old dogs don't last too long," she said. "I think they get rid of them."

Cox said people are shooting dogs and taking them to the city dump, where bears scavenge.

"It's really bad," said Jess Daniel, a former police chief in Angoon who continues to live there, although he said he didn't know of dogs being shot. "You probably have as many dogs as there are people, and they're running loose."

The city has a leash law, but hasn't had any city police officers since he left the department in February 2004, he said. Alaska State Troopers come in to enforce state laws, but they don't enforce leash laws, he said.

There was a man who tried to act as a dog catcher, but he doesn't do it anymore, Daniel said. There are liability concerns when it comes to someone who might harm someone else's dog.

"It's definitely a city problem," Daniel said. "People just keep getting dogs because they like dogs. The female has pups and they're not feeding the ones they have."

A man who answered the telephone at Angoon City Hall on Friday afternoon responded to a question about stray dogs by saying "no comment" and hanging up.

At one time Daniel thought about bringing in a truck to round up the stray dogs and gas them, he said.

"There's not a veterinarian out here," Cullum said. "So no one gets their dogs spayed or neutered."

She said she was trying to get a "big batch of puppies" to rescue last week to ship them to Juneau, but that fell through.

Chava Lee, executive director of Juneau's Gastineau Humane Society, said the agency is a nonprofit, privately funded organization with limited resources, but the reasons it has refused to take dogs recently from Angoon aren't simply financial.

Animals ran in packs in the capital 30 years ago, she said. Solving the problem of unwanted pets doesn't happen overnight and it takes more than finding them homes. Her organization stresses spaying and neutering.

With a 3-year-old female dog that hasn't been spayed after having 20 puppies, the real problem isn't finding homes for the puppies, Lee said. When she is asked if the humane society will take puppies, she asks if the mother will be spayed. And they have told her no, she added.

"You can either be part of the problem or part of the solution," Lee said. "We try to work with people to make sure it's not the same people (giving up animals) over and over again."

The Gastineau Humane Society isn't the only humane society in the state, or the biggest, she said. But it has provided assistance to other communities to set up their own humane societies. It has worked to train animal control officers and work to try to promote spaying and neutering, Lee said.

"We will help communities to the extent we can help them," she said. "The bigger question is why aren't the cities or the villages asking for help in the long run."

There are veterinarians who will work with outlying communities to spay and neuter animals, she said. "Leaders of those communities need to step forward."

Cox said Rocky has been fixed. Cullum said she could afford to fix Cash.

Most people in the community aren't in a financial position to get their dogs spayed or neutered, Cullum said. And most don't consider their dogs part of the family as she does.

She has heard that years ago veterinarians came in from Juneau or Sitka, but nothing like that has happened in the three years she has lived on the island.

Cullum finished the recent school year with a unit on animal cruelty, she said. "Some of the kids were saying they want to get their dogs fixed."

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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